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How Are Gaming Rooms Regulated in Texas?

How Are Gaming Rooms Regulated in Texas?

Gambling is generally prohibited in Texas but there are many exceptions to the general rule. Game rooms are generally authorized so long as they do not have illegal gambling devices. Specifically, so-called “eight-liner” machines are illegal gambling devices, unless the prizes awarded are non-cash items that are worth no more than 10 times the cost of one play, or $5.00, whichever is less. Most Texas game rooms with eight-liners operate under this so-called “fuzzy animal” exception. Only certain counties are authorized to regulate game rooms; Brazoria County is one of those counties. The fact that Brazoria County can regulate game rooms does not preempt a home rule city there from regulating game rooms.

Article III, Section 47(a) of the Texas Constitution requires the legislature to prohibit “lotteries and gift enterprises.” Section 47.02(a) of the Texas Penal Code makes it a Class C misdemeanor (fine only) for any person to make a bet on the outcome of a game or contest, make a bet on the result of any political nomination, appointment, or election, or to play and bet for anything of value on “any game played with cards, dice, balls, or any other gambling device.”

It is a defense to prosecution of the misdemeanor that the gambler was in a private place, that no person received any economic benefit other than personal winnings, and except for the advantage of skill or luck, the chances of winning or losing were equal for all participants. It is also a defense if the person played for something other than money using a “contrivance” excluded from the definition of a gambling device.

Game rooms are generally legal in Texas as long as they do not have “illegal gambling devices” as defined in Section 47.01(4) of the Texas Penal Code. Section 47.01(4)(B) is the so-called “fuzzy animal” exception — an illegal gambling device does not include “any electronic, electromechanical, or mechanical contrivance designed, made, and adapted solely for bona fide amusement purposes if the contrivance rewards the player exclusively with noncash merchandise prizes, toys, or novelties, or a representation of value redeemable for those items, that have a wholesale value available from a single play of the game or device of not more than 10 times the amount charged to play the game or device once or $5, whichever is less.”

The Texas Attorney General has defined an “eight-liner machine” as “an electronic device, resembling a slot machine, on which a person wins by matching symbols in one of eight lines — three horizontal, three vertical, and two diagonal.” See also Hardy v. State, 102 S.W.3d 123, 132 (Tex. 2003).

The Texas Local Government Code, Section 234.132, provides that only certain Texas counties can regulate game rooms. Brazoria County, as “a county that is adjacent to the Gulf of Mexico and to a county that has a population of four million or more (Harris),” is one of the counties permitted to regulate game rooms. Section 234.133 provides that the county may “(1) restrict the location of game rooms to specified areas of the county, including the unincorporated area of the county; (2) prohibit a game room location within a certain distance, prescribed by the commissioners court, of a school, regular place of religious worship, or residential neighborhood; or (3) restrict the number of game rooms that may operate in a specified area of the county.” The county is also specifically authorized to require the operator of a game room to obtain a license and pay a fee and to inspect the game rooms in the county.

The Texas Attorney General has opined that eight-liners that distribute bingo tickets or gift certificates or stored-value cards are illegal.

The county’s enforcement authority to prohibit illegal gambling or game rooms includes the ability to sue for an injunction and seek a civil penalty, or to prosecute the owner/operator as a Class A misdemeanor, or both.

Please do not rely on this article as legal advice. We can tell you what the law is, but until we know the facts of your given situation, we cannot provide legal guidance. This website is for informational purposes and not for the purposes of providing legal advice. Information about our municipal law practice can be found here.

Drew Shirley is a Houston attorney with experience in tort and business litigation and business and real estate transactions. Shirley graduated cum laude from Duke University, then received two advanced degrees – a master’s in journalism and a law degree – from the University of Texas at Austin. He joined the Randle Law Office in 2015.

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